7 Ways You May Be Unintentionally Excluding Neurodiverse Talent

9 May 2017, in Recruitment

There is still a chronic lack of awareness of neurodiversity in society as a whole - and as a result, in many workplaces. Conditions are often poorly understood, generalized and inaccurately stereotyped – for example, that everyone with autism is male, or that people with ADHD cannot be focused, productive employees in the right role.

Neurodiverse individuals can be extremely talented and add significant value in organizations. But for many employers, it’s still a challenge to be disability-friendly and ‘neurodiversity smart’ – most existing hiring processes, management practices, and workplaces have been shaped almost exclusively for ‘neurotypicals’, without taking the neurodivergent into account.

Where hiring processes are concerned, this means running the risk of unintentionally excluding neurodiverse talent, whatever the organization’s intentions; of missing out on substantial, high potential talent pipelines; and even risking legal issues further down the line.

We’ve flagged 7 areas within a typical recruitment process that could be problematic in terms of successfully hiring neurodiverse talent.

Do any of these apply to your organization?

1. Not making it clear enough that you welcome (neuro)diverse applicants

Job seekers with a neurodiverse condition may have had negative experiences in the past with organizations being unprepared to hire, manage and develop them successfully. Some may even assume that most organizations are unlikely to be suitable for them. You can stand out from the crowd by making your commitment to hiring all diverse applicants – including those with neurodiverse conditions – as visible as possible, from case studies on your recruitment website to including similar text in your job descriptions.

2. Recruiting through the same old channels

Relating to point (1) above, neurodiverse job applicants may not use the major ‘conventional’ job sites and jobs boards. If you are looking to develop a specific neurodiversity hiring program, you’re likely to want to work with specialists in this area such as The Arc. Even if you just ultimately want to organically attract a wider range of applicants, it’s smart to be proactive and ensure your recruitment efforts are reaching out to school disability counsellors, disability charities, and neurodiversity-specific recruitment sites such as ‘thespectrumcareers.com’, by Autism Speaks.

3. Unclear, misleading job descriptions

Job descriptions are the first interface between your employer brand and your prospective job applicants. Many are unclear in terms of structure or jargon – people on the autism spectrum, for example, are very literal thinkers – and may also contain unnecessary skills demands. The next time you’re recruiting for a more technical role, stop and think – is ‘excellent communication skills’ really a ‘must have’ and not just ‘useful, but not essential’?

4. Confusing, timed application forms

Application forms should be made as clear as possible to avoid any misunderstandings, confusion or stress on the part of the applicant – similarly, timed elements can cause unnecessary anxiety for people who may have challenges reading or typing under time pressure.

5. Poor communication

Communication during the application process is critical to ensure not just that (all) candidates can have as stress-free an experience as possible, but also to help orient and prepare neurodiverse candidates for their interviews. For applicants on the autism spectrum, (regular) email communication is likely to be preferred, with clear and thorough information provided in advance to set expectations of interviews, assessment exercises, and onboarding.

6. Interviewers not trained in interviewing neurodiverse candidates

Interviews are stressful and challenging for most people – and especially so for people with neurodiverse conditions, such as autism. Interviews can be made to be fair and effective for these candidates - this is likely to require insight and guidance across the recruitment teams.

Typical issues with interviews could include: using a suboptimal space; a lack of understanding and empathy towards non-typical body language, eye contact, and so on; asking vague, general questions instead of clear, specific questions focused on previous experiences and achievements; and more.

Interviewers should also be aware of the key do’s and don’ts regarding disclosure of a ‘hidden’ condition such as autism – not being aware of these could have legal ramifications.

7. Potential issues with tests

Most organizations use tests and other assessments when considering job applicants – your organization is likely to be no different. Problems can arise, though, when these are applied uniformly without attention to potential discrimination against neurodiverse job candidates who may naturally have difficulties with, for example, reading material under a tight timeline. This point - stressed, for example, in the UK’s 2010 Equality Act, and the essence of this entire post – is a crucial one; don’t just assume that just because something is applied ‘equally’ across an entire group (in this case, job applicants) that it is inevitably fair, or ultimately effective.


Interested in neurodiversity in your organization? – For more info, get in touch with us – we’d love to hear from you.



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